A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Straightback Mountain

March 22, 2020
Emilie Phillips

We needed to get out of the house and yard after being stuck together for a week. Already, we were hearing stories of popular hiking spots being overwhelmed. New Hampshire hadn’t yet restricted people’s activities, so we met up with Tyson’s brother and family, trying our best to stay 6+ feet apart.

We picked the south-central Belknap Range, partly because we had been there before and found it lightly used, partly because south western NH and the Whites were still snow covered, and partly because we found a cave marked on the AMC trail map. The online Belknap Range trail map is good. It has the best list of trail names, blazes and descriptions. However, I found two extra bits of information on the AMC southern NH trail map — distances between trail junctions, and a little note off the Anna-Goat trail saying “Carbonneau Cave”. Isaac likes caves, so there we went.

We made a loop, starting on the Old Stage Road going to Mt Anna, and ending on the Old Stage Road coming from Straightback Mountain. Kent said the road was clearly a snowmobile trail given the the hard packed ice. As usual, the hiking maps omitted the snowmobile trail junctions. Watch out for them on the Red Trail and the Blueberry pasture trail. Based on counting left and right turns, I went the wrong way at one trail junction.

Looking through Carbonneau Cave

We found the cave. It’s at the low end of a long cliff wall. The young kids went through the cave, then a few of us adults followed. The cave had a technical pinch point which I traversed easily after a bit of thought. The kids left the cave and scrambled straight up the jumbled rocks to the purple blazed Precipice Path. Then us adventuresome adults explored the bigger cliff faces. Isaac tried to follow. He could get through smaller holes, but he couldn’t traverse the bigger chasms. Kent found a solitary pillar separated by one long stride from the main cliff. Stepping out onto the pillar was easy. Stepping back to the cliff was much harder. Kent found that the main cliff was slightly uphill from the pillar. It took him 5 minutes to psych himself into jumping back onto the cliff. Tyson had to try it out for himself too. Farther from the trail, a section of cliff looks big enough to bring ropes next time.

To get to the cave, park at the Blueberry Pasture Trailhead, walk west down the Old Stage Coach Road (or if you have a high clearance vehicle, you can chance driving down it). Hike a third of the way up the Red Trail to Mt Anna. The turn off to the cave isn’t marked, but you can see a use trail to the cliffs.

The top of Mt Anna was very nondescript. Had there not been a sign, I wouldn’t have known that forested bump in the woods was different from any other bump along the ridge. The kids ran ahead along the ridge. In back, us adults discussed all the changes happening with COVID-19. Lots of changes happening very fast.

Isaac and Lake Winnipesaukee

The kids wanted to head back down as soon as they spotted the purple blazed east branch of the precipice path. Isaac was super excited to prove to us that he really had seen purple blazes on their earlier scramble. We said no, they needed more exercise after being stuck at home for a week. We ate lunch among the blueberry fields and then hiked on to Mt Major. The last mile to Mt Major we started seeing people. Most people politely stepped aside to keep a 6 foot distance. The summit was busy, but no more than a nice summer day. I had been wondering whether business closures would prompt new people to try hiking. But what I saw of people up there leads me to believe that the same people are hiking who ever did, just all of them are doing it at once. The ratio of people with packs and quality hiking boots to people with sneakers and a bookbag, was about the same as on a busy summer day.

The silent people

There was a lot more grumbling heading down, and the younger members of the party threatened to mutiny, but we made it. I especially liked the views from Straightback Mountain Trail. Alton Bay, which never froze enough to land airplanes this winter, was partly melted through. Near the bottom, we found a host of ragged scarecrows and a plaque referencing The Silent People art installation.

It was a good hike, and we should do more hikes with Tyson’s family. But that will have to wait until after the coronavirus and it’s associated restrictions are done.

The following weekend, after Governor Sununu issued a stay at home order, even more people hiked Mount Major. The SPNHF, who owns the trails, is telling people to stop hiking Mt Major.

All Photos

GPS Track


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Comments (2)

  • Enjoyed the story of your family adventure. I hiked the same route today, Wednesday March 3 except we did not add on the Mt Major leg. We went direct from Mt Anna to Straightback then down Blueberry Pasture and literally saw zero people on the trail. It has become somewhat of a badge of honor for locals up here to discover the trails less traveled and it’s amazing how just avoiding one leg of a trail system can make all the difference in crowds. Even on weekdays the trails have been quite active this winter.

    • Finding a less traveled trail is definitely a fun challenge.

      If you have a Strava account, you an use the global heat map to check where people go and avoid those places

      Another option, if you already know an area, is to see if the trails are on open street maps. This only tells you if one person who is a fan of open street maps has been there. But if no one has mapped the trails, they are probably less popular.

      Skipping the summits definitely avoids crowds. People in New England seem to like peak bagging. Where I come from in Virginia, the mountains are long ridges without defined peaks. So people focused more on how many miles of the AT they could hike.